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Modernity An lntroduction to Modern Societies

Edited by Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert, and Kenneth Thompson




The Question of Cultural ldentity

Stuart Hall

1.1 1.2 1.3

lntroduction: ldentity in Question Three concepts of identity The character of change in late-modernity What is at stake in the question of identities?


598 600



Birth and Death of the Modern Subject

De-centering the subject National Cultures as "lmagined Communities" Narrating the nation: an imagined community Deconstructing the "national culture": identity and difference Globalization


3.1 3.2

613 615 618 619



Time-space compression and identity Towards the global post-modern? The Global, the Local, and the Return of Ethnicity "The Rest" in "the West" The dialectic of identities Fundamentalism, Diaspora, and Hybridity

623 626

5.2 6



lntroduction: ldentity in Question


debated The question of "identity" is being vigorously

i" ?":l3J which stabilized th' In essence, ttt" urgrr*",ti ls that tti" oia ideniities giving lse -t9 new identities ar: ,o"iA -orfa for s6 long are in decline' "ft"g-"",f"g so-callei: tfr" *oa",?t lndividual as a unifiLd subject' This which change. of process wider a of part ;; ;;;; "crisis of identity" it a: societies the central structu'res and processes of modern
underminingtheft"me*orkswhichgaveindividualsstableanchorag' in the social world. of these questions aboul The aim of this chapter is to explore some whether a "crisis of assess to and cultural identity i" futil-J"rnity directions it is iJ;;i;"t;;e*isis, *ttut lt consists of' and in which as: What do we mean moving. The chapter uait"""t such questions in modern societie-s a "crisis of identity"? Wh"t t""""t developments are its potential What it? Wtt"i fot- does it taie? t 1-2) deals with (sections "rr"-pr""ipitated rt fi;J;"J oJ this th.anter ;;;;"';";"ri " second part The subject' the and shifts in the concepts of identity cu]tutal.identit to respect with argument [;;;;; .".ih;;" ,-6) dev;lop; this our "belonging" to aspects of orri identitie"s which arise from and' above all' nationa' distinctive ethnic, .""iui, ii"g"istic' religious' cultures. --S"rr".ut concern of the chapters in part III approach their central as i: debate' a within it fro* u rrrr^ber of difierent positions' framing somewhat works chapter This between different protagonists' sympathetic to the differently' It is written"from a position Lasically "d.e-centered"; that is, disloca: claim that modern iJ"rrtiti", ".u b"ittg to see what it entails ' o. ttug*"r,t"a. ft, "i*lt to-explore ttiis claim' tttuv be its likely consequences' In tht ;;iifi; ii, ;"a to dis""ts *t'ui the claim by introducir-course of the argum"",,1fri, chaptlr modifies features whi contradictory certain complexities and exami"lt'g 'o*" neglects' forms' simpler itt"";Jl-"""i"ring" claim, in its are provisional and Accordingly, ttt" iot*"fations in this chapter fraternity is st: oplt to "onLit"tiorr.. opinion within the soiiological recent and too too ai"pfy aitiaed about ih"'" i"""'' The trends ate with -identity - to ;;;id"""t, and the very concept we are dealing in understood ;;il.'"f too under-de"Lloped,-and too little tested. As with manv definitivelv ;;il;;;r"ry social science to be to o:: impossible is it this in the other phurro-"tu examined "ol"*e' judgments ul:"t th" conclusive statements or to make secure , advanced' You should bea being p'opotitions theoretical claims "r,a this in mind as you read the rest of the chapter' Forthosetheoristswhobelievethatmod-ernidentitiesarebreakil. distinctive type of up, the argument runs so-ething like-this' A in the late twentj societies modern structural change iri'utt'fot*in[ of class' gender landscapes theiultural ;;;*ty rhis lJfragmuttti"g gave usfirm locatio: sexuality, ethnicity]race, aid nationality which also shifting our t""l"i individuais' These transformations are ourselves as integratet: "t personal id.entities, undermining our sense of



subjects. This loss of a stable "sense of self" is sometimes called the dislocation or de-centering of the subject. This set of double displacements - de-centering individuals both from their place in the social and cultural world, and from themselves - constitutes a "crisis of identity" for the individual. As the cultural critic, Kobena Mercer, observes, "identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty" (Mercer, 1990, p. 43). Many of these processes of change have been discussed at length in earlier chapters. Taken together, they represent a process of transformation so fundamental and wide-ranging that we are bound to ask if it is not modernity itself which is being transformed. This chapter adds a new dimension to the argument: the claim that, in what is sometimes described as our post-modern world, we are also "post" any fixed or essentialist conception of identity - something which, since the Enlightenment, has been taken to define the very core or essence of our being, and to ground our existence as human subjects. In order to explore this claim, I shall look first at definitions of identity and at the character of change in late-modernity.

1.1 Three concepts

of identity

For the purposes of exposition, I shall distinguish three very different conceptions of identity: those of the (a) Enlightenment subject, [b) sociological subject, and (c) post-modern subject. The Enlightenment subject was based on a conception of the human person as a fully centered, unified individual, endowed with the capacities of reason, consciousness, and action, whose "center" consisted of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born, and unfolded with it, while remaining essentially the same - continuous or "identical" with itself - throughout the individual's existence. The essential center of the self was a person's identity. I shall say more about this in a moment, but you can see that this was a very "individualist" conception of the subject and "his" (for Enlightenment subjects were usually described as male) identity. The notion of the sociological subject reflected the growing complexity of the modern world and the awareness that this inner core of the subject was not autonomous and self-suffi.cient, but was formed in relation to "significant others," who mediated to the subject the values, meanings, and symbols - the culture - of the worlds he/she inhabited. G.H. Mead, C.H. Cooley, and the symbolic interactionists are the key figures in sociology who elaborated this "interactive" conception of identity and the self. According to this view, which has become the classic sociological conception of the issue, identity is formed in the "interaction" between self and society, The subject still has an inner core or essence that is "the real me," but this is formed and modified in a continuous dialogue with the cultural worlds "outside" and the identities which they offer. Identity, in this sociological conception, bridges the gap between the "inside" and the "outside" - between the personal and the public

worlds. The fact that we proiect "ourselves" into these cultural identities, at the same time internalizing their meanings and values, making them "part of us," helps to align our subiective feelings with the objective places we occupy in the social and cultural world' Identity thus stitches (or, to use a current medical metaphor, "sutures") the subject into the structure. It stabilizes both subjects and the cultural worlds they inhabit, making both reciprocally more unified and
predictable. Yet these are exactly what are now said to be "shifting." The subject. previously experienced as having a unified and stable identity, is becoming fragmented; composed, not of a single, but of several, sometimes contradictory or unresolved, identities. Correspondingly, the identities which composed the social landscapes "out there," and which ensured our subjective conformity with the objective "needs" of the culture, are breaking up as a result of structural and institutional change. The very process of identification, through which we project ourselves into our cultural identities, has become more open-ended, variable, and problematic. This produces the post-modern subiect, conceptualized as having no fixed, essential, or permanent identity. Identity becomes a "moveable feast": formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways u'e are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround u. (HaU, 1gB7). It is historically, not biologically, defined. The subject assumes different identities at different times, identities which are not unified around a coherent "self." Within us are contradictory identities.

pulling in different directions, so that our identifications are continuously being shifted about. If we feel we have a unified identitv from birth to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or "narrative of the self" about ourselves (see Hall, 1s90). The fully unified, completed, secure, and coherent identity is a fantasy, Instead, as the systems of meaning and cultural representation multiply, we are confronted by a bewildering, fleeting multiplicity of possible identities. any one of which we could identify with - at least temporarily. You should bear in mind that the above three conceptions of the subject are, to some extent, simplifications. As the argument develops, they will become more complex and qualified. Nevertheless, they are worth holding on to as crude pegs around which to develop the argument of this chapter,

1.2 The character

of change in late-modernity

A further aspect of the issue of identity relates to the character of change in late-modernity; in particular, to that process of change known as "globalization" (discussed in earlier chapters, especially chapter 14), and its impact on cultural identity. In essence, the argument here is that change in late-modernity has a very specific character. As Marx said about modernity, "[it is a] constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation' . ' ' All fi.xed, fastfrozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions,


are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before thev can


All that is solid melts into air.


." (Marx and Engels,

1'973, p'

Modern societies are therefore by definition societies of constant, rapid, and permanent change. This is the principal distinction between "tiaditional" and "modern" societies. Anthony Giddens argues that "In traditional societies, the past is honoured and symbols are valued because they contain and perpetuate the experience of generations. Tradition is a means of handling time and space, which inserts any particular activity or experience within the continuity of past, present ind future, these in turn being structured by recurrent social practices" (Giddens, 1990, pp. 37-B). Modernity, by contrast, is not only defined as the experience of living with rapid, extensive, and continuous change, but is a highly reflexive form of life in which "social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming information atout those very practices, thus constitutively altering their
character" (Giddens, 1990, pp. 37-B). Giddens cites in particular the pace of change and the scope of change - "as different areas of the globe are drawn into interconnection with one another, waves of social transformation crash acloss virtually the whole of the earth's surface" - and the nature of modetn institutions (Giddens, L990, p. 6). The latter are either radically new compared with traditional societies (e.g' the nation-state or the commodification of products and wage labor), or have a specious continuity with earlier forms (e.g. the city) but are organized on quite different principles. More significant are the transformations of time and space, and what he calls the "disembedding of the social system" ,,the ,Iifting out' of social relations from Iocal contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space" (1990' p. 21). We will take up all these themes later. However, the general point

we would stress is that of discontinuities.

The modes of life brought into being by modernity have swept us away from all traditional types of social order in quite unprecedented fashion. In both their extensionality ["external aspects"l and their intensionality ["internal aspects"] the transformations involved in modernity are more profound than most sorts of change characteristic of prior periods. On the extensional plane they have served to establish forms of social interconnection which span the globe; in intensional terms they have come to alter some of the most intimate and personal features of our day-to-day existence' (Giddens, 1990, p. 21,)

David Harvey speaks of modernity as not only entailing "a ruthless break with atty otiU preceding conditions," but as "characterized by a never-ending process of internal ruptures and fragmentations within itself" (1989, n. tz). Ernesto Laclau (1s90) uses the concept of ,,dislocation.';A disloc"ted structure is one whose center is displaced and not replaced by another, but by "a plurality of power centers'" Modern societies, Laclau argues, have no center, no single articulating



or organizing principle, and do not develop according to the unfolding of a slngle "cause" or "law." Society is not, as sociologists often thought, a unified and well-bounded whole, a totality, producing itself through evolutionary change from within itself, Iike the unfolding of a daffodil from its bulb. It is constantly being "de-centered" or dislocated by forces outside itself. Late-modern societies, he argues, are characterized by "difference"; they are cut through by different social divisions and social antagonisms which produce a variety of different "subject positions" i.e. identities - for individuals. If such societies hold together at all, it is not because they are unified, but because their different elements and identities can, under certain circumstances, be articulated together. But this articulation is always partial: the structure of identity remains open. Without this, Laclau argues, there would be no history. This is a very different, and far more troubled and provisional, conception of identity than the earlier two (see section 1.1). We should add that, far from being dismayed by all this, Laclau argues that dislocation has positive features. It unhinges the stable identities of the past, but it also opens up the possibility of new articulations - the iorging of new identities, the production of new subjects, and what he calis the "recomposition of the structure around particular nodal points of articulation" (Laclau, 1990, p. 40)' Giddens, Harvey, and Laclau offer somewhat different readings of the nature of change in the post-modern world, but their emphasis on discontinuity, fragmentation, rupture, and dislocation contains a common thread. You should bear this in mind when we come to consider what some theorists claim to be the impact of the contemporary change that is known as "globalization."

1.3 What is at stake in the question

of identities?

So far the arguments may seem rather abstract' To give you some sense of how they apply to a concrete situation, and what is "at stake" in these contested definitions of identity and change, Iet us take an example which highlights the political consequences of the

fragmentation or "pluralization" of identities. ln 1991, President Bush, anxious to restore a conservative majority to the US Supreme Court, nominated Clarence Thomas, a black judge of conservative political views' In Bush's iudgment, white voters were Iikely to support Thomas because he was conservative on equal-rights legislation, and black voters would support Thomas because he was black. In short, the President was "playing the identities game." During the Senate "hearings" on the appointment, Judge Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by a black woman' Anita Hill, a former junior colleague of Thomas's. The hearings caused a public scandal and polarized American society, Some blacks supported Thomas on racial grounds; others opposed him on sexual grounds. Black women were dinided, depending on whether their "identities" as blacks or as women prevailed. Black men were also divided, depending on whether their iexism overrode their liberalism. white men were divided, depending



' . .

not onl{ on their politics, but on how they identified themserves with respect to racism and sexism. White conservative *o*"o r.rfport"d Thomas not onrv on^political gror.,ar. uut because of their oplosition to feminism. wrrite feminists, ift ;; li;";;i ;ffiH."iromas on sexual grounds. And bec.ause Judge Thomas is a membe, of the judicial elite and Anita Hall, at the time o"t ti,r-"it"g"a ncia"r,t, *ar"u lrroio, employee, there were issues of social class position at work in these arguments too. The questio" of Iygqu Thomas,s guilt or innocence is not at issue is, is the ,'p'iay of iau"iiti"r;;und its poliiic;l ;;;;;q"u,,""r.


each other.

The identities were contradictory. They cross-cut or .,dislocated,,

th" h"J; ;i ;;;l individual. No single identity - e.g. that of social class _ could align all the different identities into- one, olru.*"hing "master identity,,, on which a politics be securely gr;,r.ra"a, people ,ro iorrg", :o,uld identify their social interests u*"ilri""t;; .r"* i"r-r, ."""", serve as a discursive device or mobilizing "i"i', categorfii;."r,gi irri"r. all the diverse social interests and iJurrtiii", reconciled and represented. "f;;pi;;;;;
world are fractured in this *y tv u.ra dirlo;;Gla""rrtiiitio.r, "o-p"tini arising, especially, Iiom the erosio"n of the ..mast*"ra""iii"; class and the emerging identities belonging "f *" ifr"r"* p.ii,i""ir*-""a defined by the new social mouemi.rti: feminism. 6f*t ri.,ingr"r. national liberation, anti-nuclear, and ecologic;i-;;;#;]1i0ur"".,

across settled constituencies, and,,inside,,

The contradictions operated both ,,outside,,,in society, cutting


Increasingly, the political landscapes of the modern


is said to have shifted, from that subject to that of the sociological and then the "por,--oJu.T" "i,rrJ"rigrttenment subject. Thereafter, the chapter will explore that aspeci ;;l;;;'"ultural identity which is formed thro-ugh orr"', "f ii^ -"*b^ership culture _ and how " the processes of dislocating change, "rri"rr,l encapsulated by the ;;"";-t "globalization,', are affecting i"t. -r----" "f

trom a politics of (class) identity to a politics .t iifi"r"""" t,"T :oy briefly outline the shape of the rest of the chapter. First, I shall look in somewhat more depth at how the concept of identity

since identity shifts according to how the subject is addressed or represented' identification is not automatic, but can be won or iost. It has poJiticized. This is ro-uii-", described as a " shift

The Birth and Death of the Modern subject

In this section I shall outrine the account offeled by some contemporary theorists of the main shifts that il;;;;;;;ed in the way the subject



But feminism also had a more direct relation to the conceptual decentering of the Cartesian and the sociological subject: . It questioned the classic distinction between "inside" and "outside," "private" and "public." Feminism's slogan was "the personal is

. o

political." It therefore opened up to political contestation whole new arenas of social life - tle family, sexuality, housework, the domestic division of labor, child-rearing, etc. It also exposed, as a political and social question, the issue of how we are foimed and produced as gendered subiects' That is to say, it politicized subjectivity, identity, and the process of identification (as
men/women, mothers/fathers, sons/daughters). What began as a movement directed at challenging the social positionTf women expanded to include I}re formation of sexual and gendered identities. Feminism challenged the notion that men and women were part of the same identity - "Mankind" - replacing it with the question of sexual differcnce.

o .

In this section, then, I have tried to map the conceptual shifts by which, according to some theorists, the Enlightenment "subject," with a fixed and stable identity, was de-centered into the open, contradictory, unfinished, fragmented identities of the post-modern subject. I have traced this through five great de-centerings. Let me remind you again that a great many social scientists and intellectuals do not ui""pt th" conceptual or intellectual implications (as -outlined above) of thlse developments in modern thought. However, few would now deny their deeply unsettling effects on late-modern ideas and, particularly, on how the subject and the issue of identity have come to
be conceptualized.

National Cultures as "lmagined Communities"

Having traced the conceptual shifts by which the late-modern or postmoderin conceptions of the subject and identity have emerged, I shall now turn to the question of how this "fragmented subiect" is placed in terms of its culfurol identities. The particular cultural identity I am concerned with is that of national identity (though other aspects are implicated in the story). What is happening to cultural identity in latemodernity? specifically, how are national cultural identities being affected or displaced by the process of globalization? In the modern world, the national cultures into which we are born are one of the principal sources of cultural identity. In defining ourselves we sometimes say we are English or welsh or Indian or identities Jamaican. of course, this is to speak metaphorically. These are not literally imprinted in our genes. However, we do think of them



if they are part of our essential natures. The conservative

The condition of man [sic] requires that the individual, u'hi'' exists and acts as an autonomous being, does so only becaus'. can first identify himself as something greater - as a member society, group, class, state or nation, of some arrangement to which he may not attach a name, but which he recognizes

philosopher Roger Scruton argues that:

instinctively as home. (Scruton, 1986, P' 156) Ernest Gellner, from a more liberal position, also believes that with, a sense of national identification the modern subject would experie:-. a deep sense of subjective loss: The idea of a man [sic] without a nation seems to impose a [gre '' strain on the modern imagination. A man must have a national::. as he must have a nose and two ears. All this seems obvious, though, alas, it is not true. But that it should have come to seen: ro ,t"iy obviously true is indeed an aspect, perhaps the very cor' of the problem of nationalism. Having a nation is not an inherer:' attribule of humanity, but it has now come to appear as such' (Gellner, 1983, P' 6) The argument we will be considering here is that, in fact, national identities ate not things we are born with, but are formed and transformed within and in relation Io representation. We only know ,,English" because of the way "Englishness" has come : what it is to be be represented, as a set of meanings, by English national culture' It follows that a nation is not only a political entity but something whici: produces meanings - a system of cultural representation. People^ are not only legal citilens of a nation; they participate in the ideo of the nation as represented in its national culture. A nation is a symbolic community and it is this which accounts for its "power to generate a sense of identity and allegiance" (Schwarz, 1986, p. 106)' National cultures are a distinctly modern form. The allegiance and identifi.cation which, in a pre-moderir age or in more traditional societies, were given to tribe, people, religion, and region, came gradually in weitern societies to be transferred to l]ne national culture. F.egionai and ethnic differences were gradually subsumed beneath whar Ge"llner calls the "political roof" of the nation-state, which thus became a powerful source of meanings for modern cultural identities' The formation of a national culture helped to create standards of universal literacy, generalized a single vernacular language as the dominant medium of communication throughout the nation, created a homogeneous culture and maintained national cultural institutions, such is a national education system. In these and other ways, national culture became a key feature of industrialization and an engine of modernity. Nevertheless, there are other aspects of a national culture which pull it in a different direction, bringing to the fore what Homi Bhabha calls "the particular ambivalence that haunts the idea of the nation" (Bhabha, r-ooo, p. 1). some of these ambiguities are explored in


section 4. First, section 3.1 will consider how a national culture functions as a system of representation, and section 3'2, whether national identities are really as unified and homogeneous as they represent themselves to be. It is only when-these two questions have national be^en answered that we can properly consider the claim that identities were once centered, Coherent, and whole, but are now being dislocated by the processes of globalization'


Narrating the nation: an imagined community

National cultures are composed not only of cultural institutions, but of symbols and representations. A national culture is a discourse - a way oi constructingheanings which influences and organizes both our of ourselves (see chapter 6)' National actions and our "o.t""piiott cultures construct identities by producing meanings about "the nation" with which we can identifin, theie are contained in the stories which are told about it, -emories which connect its present with its past, and images which are constructed of it. As Benedict Anderson (1983) has argu"ed, national identity is an "imagined community" (see the diicussion of this idea by Kenneth Thompson in chapter 12)' Anderson argues that the differences between nations lie in the different .uyr Lr which they are imagined, Or, as Enoch Powell put it, ,.the life of nations no less than that of men is lived largely in the imagination" (Powell, 1969, p. 245)' But how is the modern nation imalined? What representational strategies are deployed to- co-nstruct o,rr.-"o-*orr-sense views of national belonging or identity? What are the representations of, say, "England" which win the identifications and define the identitier tf "n"gtirtt" people? "Nations," Homi Bhabha ,,Iike narratives, Iose their origins in the myths of time has remarked, and only fuIIy realize their horizons in the mind's eye" (Bhabha, 1990, p. r). How is the narrative of the national culture told? ' Of the many aspects which a comprehensive answer to that question would include, I have selected five main elements' 1 First, there is Ihe naffative of the nation, as it is told and retold in national histories, Iiteratures, the media, and popular culture. These provide a set of stories, images, landscapes, scenarios, historical events, national symbols, and rituali which stand for, or represent, the shared experiences, sorrows, and triumphs and disasters which give meaning to the nation. As members of such an "imagined community"' we see ourselves in our mind's eye sharing in this narrative. It lends significance and importance to our humdrum existence, connecting our lives with a national destiny that pre-existed us and will ".Ltyday outlive us. From England's green and pleasant land, its gentle, rolling countryside, rose-trellised cottages and country-house g$dens ,,sceptered isle" i to public ceremonials like Royal Shakespeare's weddings, the discourse of "Englishness" representsr,r,l^hat "England" is, gives mEaning to the identity of "b"ittg English," 1nd- fixes "England" as a focus of identification in dnglish (and Anglophile) hearts' As Bill
Schwarz observes:


These make up the threads that bind us invisibly to the past

as English nationalism

is denied, so is the fact of its turbuler:' contested history. What we get instead. . ' is an emphasis on tradition and heritage, above all on confinuity so that our prt'' political culture is seen as the flowering of a long organic
(Schwarz, 1986, p. 155)

Secondly, there is the emphasis on origins, continuity' traditiot' and timelessness. National identity is represented as primordial "there, in the very nature of things," sometimes slumbering, but er''. ready to be "awoken" from its "long, persistent and mysterious somnolence" to resume its unbroken existence (Gellner, 1983' p. -lb The essentials of the national character remain unchanged through the vicissitudes of history. It is there from birth, unified and continuous, "changeless" throughout all the changes, eternal' Primt. Minister Margaret Thatcher remarked at the time of the Falklands \\ that there were some people "who thought we could no longer do ti. great things which we once did. . . that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. . . . Well they were wrong. . . Britain has not changed" (quot,'.' in Barnett, 1982, p. 63).

A third discursive strategy is what Hobsbawm and Ranger call ti' invention of tradition: "Traditions which appear or claim to be old a: often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented' . . , 'Invented tradition' lmeans] a set of practices, . ' ' of a ritual or symbolic nature which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviours bv repetition which automatically implies continuity with a suitable historical past." For example, "Nothing appears more ancient, and linked to an immemorial past, than the pageantry which surrounds British monarchy and its public ceremonial manifestations. Yet. . . in its modern form it is the product of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries" (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 19S3, p. 1).

A fourth example of the narrative of national culture is that of a foundational myth: a story which locates the origin of the nation, the people, and their national character so early that they are lost in the misis of, not "real," but "mythic" time. Invented traditions make the confusions and disasters of history intelligible, converting disanay int "community" and disasters into triumphs. Myths of origin also help disenfranchised peoples to "conceive and express their resentment ant: its contents in intelligible terms" (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 19S3, p' 1). They provide a narrative in terms of which an alternative history or counter-narrative, which pre-dates the ruptures of colonization, can be constructed (e.g. Rastafarianism for the dispossessed poor of Kingston. |amaica; see Hall, 1985). New nations are then founded on these myth: (I say "myths" because, as was the case with many African nations which emerged after decolonization, what preceded colonization was not "one nation, one people," but many different tribal cultures and


National identity is also often symbolically grounded on the idea of or "folk." But, in the realities of national development, it is rarely this primordial folk who persist or exercise power. As Gellner wryly observes, "When [simple people] donned folk costume and trekked over the hills, composing poems in the forest clearings, they did not also dream of one day becoming powerful bureaucrats, ambassadors and ministers" (toa3, p, 61). The discourse of national culture is thus not as modern as it appears to be. It constructs identities which are ambiguously placed between past and future. It straddles the temptation to return to former glories and the drive to go forwards ever deeper into modernity. Sometimes national cultures are tempted to turn the clock back, to retreat defensively to that "lost time" when the nation was "great," and to restore past identities. This is the regressive, the anachronistic, element in the national cultural story. But often this very return to the past conceals a struggle to mobilize "the people" to purify their ranks, to expel the "others" who threaten their identity, and to gird their loins for a new march forwards. In Britain during the 1980s, the rhetoric of Thatcherism sometimes inhabited both these aspects of what Tom Nairn calls the "fanus-face" of nationalism (Nairn, 1977): looking back to past imperial glories and "Victorian values" while simultaneously undertaking a kind of modernization in preparation for a new stage of global capitalist competition. Something of the same kind may be going on now in Eastern Europe. Areas breaking away from the old Soviet Union reaffirm their essential ethnic identities and claim nationhood, buttressed by (sometimes extremely dubious) "stories" of mythic origins, religious orthodoxy, and racial purity. Yet they may be also using the nation as the form in which to compete with other ethnic "nations," and so to gain entry to the rich "club" of the West. As Immanuel Wallerstein has acutely observed, "the nationalisms of the modern world are the ambiguous expression lof a desire] for. . . assimilation into the universal . . . and simultaneously for. . . adhering to the particular, the reinvention of differences. Indeed it is a universalism through particularism and particularism through universalism" (Wallerstein, 1984, pp. 166-7).
a purc, original people

3.2 Deconstructing the "national culture": identity and difference

Section 3.1 considered how a national culture functions as a source of cultural meanings, a focus of identification, and a system of representation. This section now turns to the question of whether national cultures and the national identities they construct are actually unified. In his famous essay on the topic, Ernest Renan said that three things constitute the spiritual principle of the unity of a nation: ". . . the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories, . . . the desire to live together, [and] the will to perpetuate the heritage that one has received in an undivided form" (Renan, 1990, p. 19). You should bear in mind these three resonant concepts of what constitutes a national




culture as an "imagined communily": memorjes from the past; the desire to live together; the perpetuation of tL'e heritage. Timothy Brennan reminds us that the word nation refers "both to tl:' modern nation-state and to something more ancient and nebulous - th' natio- a local community, domicile, family, condition of belonging" (Brennan, 1990, p. 45). National identities represented precisely the result of bringing these two halves of the national equation together offering both membership of the political nation-state and identificatio:. with the national culture: "to make culture and polity congruent" and to endow "reasonably homogeneous cultures, each with its own political roof" (Gellner, 1983, p. 43). Gellner clearly establishes this impulse to unify in national cultures:
. . . culture is now the necessary shared medium, the life-blood, or perhaps rather the minimal shared atmosphere, within which alone the members of the society can breathe and survive and produce. For a given society it must be one in which they can all breathe and speak and produce; so it must be the scme culture. (Gellner, 1983, pp. 37-B)

To put

it crudely, however different its members may be in terms of class, gender, or race, a national culture seeks to unify them into one cultural identity, to represent them all as belonging to the same great
national family. But is national identity a unifying identity of this kind which cancels or subsumes cultural difference? Such an idea is open to doubt, for several reasons. A national culture has never been simply a point of allegiance, bonding and symbolic identification. It is also a structure of cultural power. Consider the

following points:

1 Most modern nations consist of disparate cultures which were only unified by a lengthy process of violent conquest - that is, by the forcible suppression of cultural difference. "The British people" are the product of a series of such conquests - Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Viking, and Norman. Throughout Europe the story is repeated ad nauseam,
Each conquest subjugated conquered peoples and their cultures, customs, languages, and traditions and tried to impose a more unified cultural hegemony. As Ernest Renan has remarked, these violent beginnings which stand at the origins of modern nations have first to be "forgotten" before allegiance to a more unifi.ed, homogeneous national identity could begin to be forged. Thus "British" culture still does not

consist of an equal partnership between the component cultures of the UK, but of the effective hegemony of "English," a southern-based culture which represents itself as the essential British culture, over Scottish, Welsh, and Irish and, indeed, other regional cultures' Matthew Arnold, who tried to fix the essential character of the English people from their literature, claimed when considering the Celts that such "provincial nationalisms had to be swallowed up at the level of the political and licensed as cultural contributors to English culture" (Dodd, 1986, p. 12).



2 Secondly, nations are always composed of different social classes, and gender and ethnic groups. Modern British nationalism was the product of a very concerted effort, in the late Victorian and high imperial period, to unify the classes across social divisions by providing them with an alternative point of identification - common membership of "the family of the nation." The same point can be made about gender. National identities are strongly gendered. The meanings and values of "Englishness" have powerful masculine associations. Women play a secondary role as guardians of hearth, kith, and kin, and as "mothers" of the nation's "sons." 3 Thirdly, modern western nations were also the centers of empires or of neo-imperial spheres of influence, exercising cultural hegemony over the cultures of the colonized. Some historians now argue that it was in this process of comparison between the "virtues" of "Englishness" and the negative features of other cultures that many of the distinctive characteristics of English identities were first defined (see C. HalI,

represented as unified. One way of unifying them has been to represent them as the expression of the underlying culture of "one people." Ethnicity is the term we give to cultural features - language, religion, custom, traditions, feeling for "place" - which are shared by a people. It is therefore tempting to try to use ethnicity in this "foundational" way. But this belief turns out, in the modern world, to be a myth. Western Europe has no nations which are composed of only one people, one culture or ethnicity. Modern nations are all cultural hybfids. It is even more difficult to try to unify national identity around race; first, because - contrary to widespread belief - race is not a biological or genetic category with any scientific validity. There are different genetic strains and "pools," but they are as widely dispersed within what are called "races" as they are between one "race" and another. Genetic difference - the last refuge of racist ideologies - cannot be used to distinguish one people from another. Race is a discursive, not a biological category. That is to say, it is the organizing category of those ways of speaking, systems of representation, and social practices (discourses) which utilize a loose, often unspecified set of differences in physical characteristics - skin color, hair texture, physical and bodily features, etc. - as symbolic markers in order to differentiate one

Instead of thinking of national cultures as unified, we should think of them as constituting a discursive device which represents difference as unity or identity. They are cross-cut by deep internal divisions and differences, and "unified" only through the exercise of different forms of cultural power. Yet - as in the fantasies of the "whole" self of which Lacanian psychoanalysis speaks - national identities continue to be

group socially from another. Of course the unscientific character of the term "race" does not undermine "how racial logics and racial frames of reference are articulated and deployed, and with what consequences" (Donald and Rattansi, 1992, p, 1). In recent years, biological notions of races as a



distinct species (notions which underpinned extreme forms of nationalist ideology and discourse in earlier periods: Victorian
eugenics, European race theories, fascism) have been replaced by cultural definitions of race, which allow race to play a significant role

in discourses about the nation and national identity. Paul Gilroy has commented on the links between "cultural racism" and "the idea of race and the ideas of nation, nationality, and national belonging":
We increasingly face a racism which avoids being recognized as such because it is able to line up "race" with nationhood, patriotism and nationalism, A racism which has taken a necessar\ distance from crude ideas of biological inferiority and superioritv now seeks to present an imaginary definition of the nation as a unified cultural community. It constructs and defends an image oi national culture - homogeneous in its whiteness yet precarious and perpetually vulnerable to attack from enemies within and without. . . . This is a racism that answers the social and political turbulence of crisis and crisis management by the recovery of national greatness in the imagination. Its dream-like construction of our sceptered isle as an ethnically purified one provides special comfort against the ravages of [national] decline.

(Gilroy, 1.992, p. 87) But even when "race" is used in this broader discursive way, modern nations stubbornly refuse to be resolved into it. As Renan observed, "the leading nations of Europe are nations of essentially mixed blood": "France is [at once] Celtic, Iberic and Germanic. Germany is Germanic, Celtic and Slav. Italy is the country where. . . Gauls, Etruscans, Pelagians and Greeks, not to mention many other elements, intersect in an indecipherable mixture, The British Isles, considered as a whole, present a mixture of Celtic and Germanic blood, the proportions of which are singularly difficult to define" (Renan, 1990, pp. 1a-15). And these are relatively simple "mixtures" as compared with those to be found in Central and Eastern Europe. This brief examination undermines the idea of the nation as a unified cultural identity. National identities do not subsume all other forms of difference into themselves and are not free of the play of power, internal divisions and contradictions, cross-cutting allegiances and difference. So when we come to consider whether national identities are being dislocated, we must bear in mind the way national cultures help to "stitch up" differences into one identity.


The previous section qualified the idea that national identities have ever been as unified or homogeneous as they are represented to be. Nevertheless, in modern history, national cultures have dominated "modernity" and national identities have tended to win out over other, more particularistic sources of cultural identification.


What, then, is so powerfulty dislocating national cultural identities now, at the end of tie twentieth century? The answer is a complex of processes and forces of change, which for convenience can be summed up under the term "globalization." This concept was extensively discussed by Anthony McGrew in chapter 14. As he argued, "globalization" refers to those processes, operating on a global scale, which cut actoss national boundaries, integrating and connecting communities and organizations in new space-time combinations, making the world in reality and in experience more interconnected. Globafzation implies a movement away from the classical sociological idea of a "society" as a well-bounded system, and its replacement by a perspective which concentrates on "how social life is ordered acloss iime ana space" (Giddens, 1990, p. 64). These new temporal and spatial features, reiulting in the compression of distances and time-scales, are among the most significant aspects of globalization affecting cultural identities, and they are discussed in greater detail below. Remember that globalization is not a recent phenomenon: "Modernity is inheiently globalizing" (Giddens, 1990, p. 63). As David Held argued in chapter 2, nation-states wele never as autonomous or as sovereign as they claimed to be. And, as Wallerstein reminds us, capitaliim ,,was from the beginning an affair of the world economy and not of nation states. Capital has never allowed its aspirations to be determined by national boundaries" (Wallerstein , 1'979, p. 19). So both the trend towards national autonomy and the trend towards globalization are deeply rooted in modernity (see Wallerstein, 1991,

p.sB)' You should bear in mind these two contradictory tendencies within globalization. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that, since the 1970s, both the scope and pace of global integration have greatly increased, accelerating the flows and linkages between nations. In this and the next section, I shall attempt to track the consequences of these aspects of globalization on cultural identities, examining fftree possible

1 2 3

National identities are being eroded as a result of the growth of cultural homogenization and "the global post-modern." National and other "local" or particularistic identities are being strengthened by the resistance to globalization. National identities are declining but new identities of hybridity are taking their place.


Time-space compression and identity

What impact has the latest phase of globalization had on national identitiei? You will remernber from chapter 14 that one of its main features is "time-space compression" - the speeding up of global processes, so that the world feels smaller and distances shorter, so that events in one place impact immediately on people and places a very Iong distance away. David Harvey argues that:


concrete, known, familiar, bounded: the site of specific social practices which have shaped and formed us, and with which our identities are closely bound up.

In premodern societies, space and place largely coincided, since the spatial dimensions of social life are, for most of the population. , . dominated by "presence" - by localised activity. . . . Modernity increasingly tears space away from place by fostering relations between "absent" others, locationally distant from any given situation of face-to-face interaction, In conditions of modernity . . . Iocales are thoroughly penetrated by and shaped in terms of social influences quite distant from them. What structures the locale is not simply that which is present on the scene; the "visible form" of the locale conceals the distanced relations which determine its nature.
(Giddens, 1990, p. 1B)
Places remain fixed; they are where we have "roots." Yet space can be "crossed" in the twinkling of an eye - by jet, fax, or satellite. Harvey calls this "the annihilation of space through time" (1989, p. 205).


Towards the global post-modern?

Some theorists argue that the general effect of these globalizing processes has been to weaken or undermine national forms of cultural identity. They argue that there is evidence of a loosening of strong identifications with the national culture, and a strengthening of other

cultural ties and allegiances, "above" and "below" the level of the nation-state. National identities remain strong, especially with respect to such things as legal and citizenship rights, but local, regional, and community identities have become more significant. Above the level of the national culture, "global" identifications begin to displace, and sometimes over-ride, national ones. Some cultural theorists argue that the trend towards greater global interdependence is leading to the breakdown of all strong cultural identities and is producing that fragmentation of cultural codes, that multiplicity of styles, emphasis on the ephemeral, the fleeting, the impermanent, and on difference and cultural pluralism which Kenneth Thompson described in chapter 17, but on a global scale - what we might call the global post-modern Cultural flows and global consumerism between nations create the possibilities of "shared identities" - as "customers" for the same goods, "clients" for the same services, "audiences" for the same messages and images - between people who are far removed from one another in time and space. As national cultures become more exposed to outside influences it is difftcult to preserve cultural identities intact, or to prevent them from becoming weakened through cultural bombardment and infiltration. People in small, apparently remote villages in poor, "Third World" countries can receive in the privacy of their homes the messages and images of the rich, consumer cultures of the West, purveyed through TV sets or the transistor radio, which bind them into the "global



village" of the new communications networks. Jeans and tennis shoes the "uniform" of the young in western youth culture - are as ubiquitous in South-East Asia as the US or Europe, not only because of the growth of the world-wide marketing of the youth consumer image, but because they are often actually produced in Taiwan or Hong Kong or South Korea for the New York, Los Angeles, London, or Rome store. The more social life becomes mediated by the global marketing of styles, places, and images, by international travel, and by globally networked media images and communications systems, the more identities become detached - disembedded - from specific times, places, histories, and traditions, and appear "free-floating." We are confronted by a range of different identities, each appealing to us, or rather to different parts of ourselves, from which it seems possible to choose. It is the spread of consumerism, whether as reality or dream, which has contributed to this "cultural supermarket" effect. Within the discourse of global consumerism, differences and cultural distinctions which hitherto defined identity become reducible to a sort of international lingua franca or global currency into which all specific traditions and distinct identities can be translated. This phenomenon is known as "cultural homogenization."
What is being created is a new electronic cultural space, a "placeless" geography of image and simulation. . . . This new global arena of culture is a world of instantaneous and depthless communication, a world in which space and time horizons have
become compressed and collapsed. . . . Globalization is about the compression of time and space horizons and the creation of a world of instantaneity and depthlessness. Global space is a space of flows, an electronic space, a decentred space, a space in which frontiers and boundaries have become permeable. Within this global arena, economies and cultures are thrown into intense and immediate contact with each other - with each "Other" (an "Other', that is nc Ionger simply "out there", but also within), I have argued that this is the force shaping our times. Many commentators, however, suggest that something quite different is happening: that the new geographies are, in fact, about the renaissance of locality and region. There has been a great surge of interest recently in local economies and local economic strategies. The case for the local or regional economy as the key unit of

production has been forcefully made by the "flexible specialization" thesis. . . . This perspective stresses the central and prefigurative importance of localized production complexes. Crucial to their success, it is suggested, are strong local institutions and infrastructures: relations of trust based on face-toface contact; a "productive community" historically rooted in a particular place; a strong sense of local pride and attachment. . . Whilst globalization may be the prevailing force of our times, this does not mean that localism is without significance. If I have emphasized processes of de-localization, associated especially


with the development of new information and communications networks, this should not be seen as an absolute tendency' The particularity of place and culture can never be done away with, can never be absolutely transcended. Globalization is, in fact, also associated with new dynamics of re-localization' It is about the achievement of a new global-local nexus, about new and intricate relations between global space and local space' Globalization is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle it is a matter of inserting a multiplicity of localities into the overall picture of a new global

(Robins, 1991, pp. 2B-31, 33-6)

To some extent, what is being debated is the tension between the "global" and the "local" in the transforrnation of identities. National identities, as we have seen, represent attachment to particular places, events, symbols, histories. They represent what is sometimes called a particularistic form of attachment or belonging. There has always been a tension between these and more unjversalistic identifications - for example, to "humanity" rather than to "Englishness." This tension has persisted throughout modernity: the growth of nation-states, national economies, and national cultures continuing to provide a focus for the first; the expansion of the world market and modernity as a global system providing the focus for the second. In reading section 5, which examines how globalization in its most recent forms impacts on identities, you may find it helpful to think of such impact in terms of new ways of articulating the particularistic and the universalistic aspects of identity, or new ways of negotiating the tension between the

The Global, the Local, and the Return

of Ethnicity
Are national identities being "homogenized"? Cultural homogenization is the anguished cry of those who are convinced that globalization threatens to undermine national identities and the "unity" of national cultures. However, as a view of the future of identities in a postmodern world this picture is too simplistic, exaggerated and one-sided



We can pick up at least three maior qualifications or countertendencies. The first arises flom the observation that alongside the tendency towards global homogenization, there is also a fascination wilh differe.nce and the marketing of ethnicity and "otherness." There is a new interest in "the local" together with the impact of "the global"' Globalization (in the form of flexible specialization and "niche" marketing) actually exploits local differentiation. Thus, instead of thinking of the global replacing the local, it would be more accurate to think of a new articulation between "the global" and "the local." This "local" is not, of course, to be confused with older identities, firmly